Ash Wednesday 2024
Senior Director, Mission Integration
Today we begin our 40-day Lenten Journey. Though not a holy day of obligation for Catholics, Ash Wednesday draws countless worshipers streaming into local churches. Our foreheads are marked with ashes intoned with the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" or “Repent and believe the Good News.” We are reminded that ashes symbolize our own mortality and need for repentance.
So woven into our Catholic Tradition are the three practices of praying, fasting and almsgiving. These timely practices carry potential to make Lent both meaningful and transformative as we journey from the gritty ashes marked on our foreheads to the foot of the Cross. Yet we know the deepest of hopes, that the Risen Christ remains with us on this journey.
As we embark on this journey, what will our Lenten fast look like? The Church reminds us: that Catholics 14 years of age and older abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, including Good Friday. And, to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday means Catholics age 18 to 59 limit the amount of food they eat. Only one full meal, and two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal, are eaten. Exceptions are made for pregnant women and those who need regular meals for medical reasons.
We can fast: from social media or from favorite beverages drinking only water during the day, fast from complaining and gossip (imagine the positive impact your presence would have on the work or school environment) or give up on-line shopping and choose to shop at a small local business.
Lent beckons . . . spend some time in prayer. The Prophet Joel in the first reading for Ash Wednesday calls us “Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord.” Joel (2:12-18). Try 10 minutes a day and experience the difference.
The call to almsgiving reminds us to do works of mercy and compassion. Imagine. If all who read this reflection made a commitment to be kind, express gratitude and each day expressed love for oneself. The outcome: proclaiming Good News - God’s merciful Love! Other ways to give alms: for each day of Lent, write a note to someone special in your life, make a meal for an elderly neighbor, show an act of kindness to someone who is difficult to like or raise funds for organizations such as Operation Rice Bowl or a favorite charity.
May our Lenten Journey be one of profound grace and transformation as we prepare to celebrate the Risen Christ.